Williamson resigns from Cabinet Office after bullying allegations

Minister departs with "real sadness" after being accused of telling a civil servant "slit your throat"
Photo: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

By Zoe Crowther

09 Nov 2022

Gavin Williamson has resigned from his cabinet position after a civil servant lodged a formal complaint against him over bullying allegations.

Williamson, who was minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office, was accused of "unethical and immoral behaviour" by the former Conservative MP Anne Milton, and a senior civil servant claimed he told them to “slit your throat”.

Milton said that as chief whip, he used “leverage” and threats to control colleagues and instil a culture of fear in Westminster.

Earlier this week Williamson was accused of sending abusive text messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton, which led to investigations by the Conservative party and parliamentary authorities. 

In a statement confirming his resignation on Tuesday evening, he said: "It is with real sadness that I tender my resignation, but I want to take this opportunity to offer my full and total support from the back benches. I am incredibly proud to have worked with you in government over the last few years and during the campaign."

Several sources have come forward in recent days with accusations of bullying and inappropriate behaviour, following the formal complaint from Morton, the Conservative Party's first female chief whip.

The Sunday Times reported that Williamson sent abusive WhatsApp messages to Morton in response to unfounded claims she excluded him from attending the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey in September, telling her “there is a price for everything”, before saying her conduct was “absolutely disgusting” and that she had chosen to “fuck us all over”. 

In a previous statement, Williamson said he "strongly" rejected the allegations and "enjoyed good working relationships" with colleagues across government.

In his resignation letter he wrote: "As you know, there is an ongoing complaints process concerning text messages I sent to a colleague. I am complying with this process and have apologised to the recipient for those messages.

"Since then, there have been other allegations made about my past conduct. I refute the characterisation of these claims, but I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing for the British people.

"I have therefore decided to step back from government so that I can comply fully with the complaints process that is underway and clear my name of any wrongdoing."

In his response to Williamson's resignation, prime minister Rishi Sunak wrote: "It is with great sadness that I accept your resignation.

"I know your commitment to successive Conservative governments and the party over the years has been unwavering.

"I support your decision to step back and understand why you have taken it. I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty. I know you will continue to represent your constituents with diligence and care."

While a cabinet minister would be entitled to up to £16,876 in severance pay, Williamson said following his resignation that he would not be claiming the payout. 

"To dispel any speculation, I want to make it clear that I will not be taking any severance," he tweeted. 

"This is taxpayers’ money and it should go instead toward the government‘s priorities like reducing the NHS’s waiting lists."

The minister's resignation puts further pressure on the prime minister over his failure to hire a new ethics adviser despite rows over his appointment of Williamson, and calls to investigate Suella Braverman's sending of official documents via a personal email account, for which she resigned before being reinstated by Sunak.

It is understood that Williamson is keeping the Conservative Party whip. 

A spokesperson for the Whip's Office said: “Sir Gavin Williamson has been clear that he will comply with the ongoing complaints process. It is right that we wait for that process to conclude.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the incident was a "damning reflection" on the new prime minister, who she accused of being "weak". 

"Rishi Sunak appointed Gavin Williamson with full knowledge of serious allegations about his conduct and repeatedly expressed confidence in him," she said. 

“This is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s poor judgement and weak leadership. It is clear that he is trapped by the grubby backroom deals he made to dodge a vote, and is incapable of putting country before party.

“As families struggle during a cost of living crisis made in Downing Street, yet another Tory government has descended into chaos.”

It is the third time Williamson has been forced out of government, having previously resigned under Theresa May and Boris Johnson's governments.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper MP said: “Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer about why he appointed Gavin Willlamson, then stood by him instead of sacking him. His promise to lead a government of integrity has now been left in tatters.

"We now need to know what Rishi Sunak knew about these shocking allegations and when, through a full independent inquiry. People deserve so much better than this endless Conservative chaos." 

Zoe Crowther is a social media journalist for Dods Group. This story first appeared on CSW's sister title PoliticsHome

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